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Gallery Text

The Ottoman dynasty established the largest Islamic empire of the early modern era. At the peak of their powers in the sixteenth century, the Ottomans built numerous large architectural projects, especially in the capital city of Istanbul. Many of the projects were designed by the renowned head architect Sinan. Ceramic tiles were part of his carefully planned interior and exterior decorations. Working with court-supplied designs, potters in the city of Iznik created some of the world’s best-known and most coveted ceramics.

Ottoman tiles of the early sixteenth century, such as the hexagonal examples here, are indebted to earlier Persian tiles in their colors and shapes. In the 1550s, Ottoman potters developed an underglaze emerald green and a bright red that yielded a powerful palette visible at a distance. These colors, along with the newly developed modular square tiles, worked well for decoration that covered great expanses of wall. Larger, single tiles were used to highlight architectural elements such as doors and windows.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Tile with interlocking half-palmettes and rosettes
Architectural Elements
Work Type
architectural element
c. 1560
Creation Place: Middle East, Turkey, Iznik
Ottoman period
Persistent Link
Level 2, Room 2550, Art from Islamic Lands, The Middle East and North Africa
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Physical Descriptions
Underglazed, painted
H: 0.7 x W: 20.7 x Depth: 1.8 cm (8 1/8 x 8 1/8 x 11/16 in.)
Edwin Binney, 3rd, (by 1985), bequest; to Harvard University Art Museums, 1985.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Edwin Binney, 3rd Collection of Turkish Art at the Harvard Art Museums
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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During the second half of the sixteenth century, a great profusion of colors and motifs begins to appear in the Iznik tiles. This tile, 9 1/2 inches square, features the traditional blue and turquoise on a white slip, but a bright orange has been added. The rumi pattern spirals from one square to another and the glaze is thick, forming little mounds on the white slip. Since these tiles are identical in pattern to those framing the doorway of the famous Rustem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul (built by the architect Sinan in 1560) we may assume that they date from this period and may even have formed part of a consignment of tiles for the building.
Label text from exhibition “Re-View,” an overview of objects drawn from the collections of Harvard Art Museums, 26 April 2008 – 1 July 2013; label text written by Mary McWilliams, Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art, Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art:

Four Tiles with Arabesque Design
Turkey, Iznik, Ottoman dynasty, c. 1560
Fritware with painting under glaze
Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of John Goelet, 1960.23A–C; The Edwin Binney, 3rd Collection of Turkish Art at the Harvard Art Museum, 1985.323

The swirling energy of this arabesque disguises the simple geometry of its composition. Four foliate vines spin outward from each rosette to terminate by intersecting with vines from adjacent rosettes. Tiles with the same pattern decorate the back wall of the mosque of Rüstem Pasa in Istanbul, which was completed in 1561.
Publication History

Edwin Binney III, Turkish Treasures from the Collection of Edwin Binney, 3rd: 1981 Supplement to the 1979 catalogue, exh. cat., San Diego Museum of Art (San Diego, CA, 1981)

Exhibition History

The Edwin Binney 3rd Collection of Turkish Art at the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/16/1987 - 08/02/1987

A Grand Legacy: Arts of the Ottoman Empire, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 10/09/1999 - 01/02/2000

Re-View: Arts of India & the Islamic Lands, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/26/2008 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 2550 Islamic, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at